Life + Culture

On Hospitality

Converse shoes on 'Welcome' mat
Christ is Risen! After a brief Easter hiatus, we're back with guest writer Steph Fernandes. Steph is an assistant county public defender in Pennsylvania. Her writing on hospitality when meeting new people has far-reaching applications for the work of racial justice and reconciliation.

For me, hospitality suggests welcoming, but it also includes something more. It entails showing the people around me that they are not only welcome, but valued, worthwhile. To do this, I generally focus on three things: being vulnerable, listening, and remembering.

Being vulnerable has a weird connotation. So, an example. I invite you to my house for dinner. You ask if you can bring something, I say no. You arrive, and ask if you can do anything, but I say no. After dinner, you ask if you can help clean up. I say no. I was nice to you, I served you, but I wouldn’t say I was hospitable. I have found that people want to contribute. We feel more valuable when we can help or offer something. Letting you wash the dishes, say, would allow you to contribute something. It’s not that I want to make you work, but rather that I want you to know I know you have something helpful to give. In letting you work, in relinquishing my control, I affirm to you that you are valuable.

Gathering of friends around a table

In much the same way, when I first meet you, I want to get to know you. I want to ask you thousands of questions and hear your stories. But I also need to give you space to ask me questions, to share part of me with you. If not, my efforts to extend hospitality and welcome you, becomes superficial. There needs to be reciprocity, or else I am not being hospitable, but patronizing.

Listening. We know the importance, and yet it’s hard. As you’re talking to me, it is easy for me to try and predict what you will say next, and respond inaccurately. Or, instead of listening to you, focus on what I intend to say next. By not listening well, chances are, I’ll miss something of importance. To welcome you, though, I need to show you I respect what you have to say, and, thus, need to ensure I listen actively.

Remembering, the one society seems to struggle with the most. If I meet you, ask you all types of questions, and then fail to retain what you said, it sends two messages. First, that I’m human, and I forget things. But the second message, I believe, is that what you said was not worthwhile to remember. Obviously, not as problematic with smaller details, but something worth thinking about. What am I making the effort to remember about you?

Words inside boy's brain: 'Remember'I certainly do not remember everything, but I know this and need to combat this. I try to create ways to help. If we were in a social group together, chances are your name was on my calendar: prayers for a class assignment, a birthday, a big day at work, a particularly frightening exam. For the record, I didn’t do this to stalk you. Instead, when you have an important event in your life, and I remember it, it is now important in my life. What better way can I extend hospitality, make you feel welcomed and valued, than incorporating your life into mine.

It Takes Time
Hospitality takes time, and I have yet to find a shortcut. Yet, I have found a way to justify the amount of time required, especially in the midst of life's hectic environments. We are all overworked, crunched for time, and living in a climate that encourages, practically demands, an selfishness. I stole the tithing concept from finances and applied it to time. I seek to spend ten percent of my time serving God. That roughly equates to 2.5 hours a day, just under 17 hours a week.

I use my story, not because it’s better, but mostly because it’s the only one I feel comfortable sharing. In law school, I tithed my time by going to church on Sundays and once during the week. I served my church by going to choir rehearsals. I served my program by studying in the hallway once a week, drastically lessening my productivity, but supporting and building community with fellow students. I served my campus fellowship by meeting with one or two members each week to strengthen bonds. I served my city by spending time in city schools. I served a broader community by volunteering at a women’s prison.
Clock with pen that's writing on it "It takes time!"
I can’t say I tithed joyfully every hour, sometimes it was a struggle, and sometimes I questioned the way I spent my time. In an environment that encourages achievement as the highest priority, scraping hours is tricky. Yet, I figured that it was my way of living to say not my will, but God’s be done.

Know that I am praying for you: that you have a fruitful spiritual journey, that you will be prompted to continually extend hospitality regardless of the time constraints, that you will likewise be fed by communities of hospitality around you, and, practically, that you will be encouraged and strengthened as you move through the year.

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